Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not fear being sacked by Manchester United, despite the club’s worst start to a season for 31 years and the availability of Mauricio Pochettino.
Pochettino, Unai Emery and Quique Sanchez Flores have lost their jobs at Tottenham, Arsenal and Watford respectively in recent weeks, Marco Silva is on the brink at Everton and Solskjaer’s own position is under growing scrutiny.
United are ninth in the Premier League, eight points adrift of the top four and 22 points behind leaders Liverpool after winning just four of their opening 14 Premier League matches and face a forbidding week of fixtures.
Jose Mourinho, who replaced Pochettino at Tottenham last month, returns to Old Trafford on Wednesday for the first time as an opposition manager since being sacked 12 months ago, when United will again be without Paul Pogba and possibly fellow midfielders Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic. United then face champions Manchester City in the derby at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.
Mourinho had 22 points after 14 games for United last season — four more than Solskjaer now — only to be dismissed a fortnight later but the Norwegian says he does not fear the same fate.
“No it doesn’t make me more concerned,” Solskjaer said when asked about the volume of managers losing their jobs. “I’m just focusing on my job and that’s just doing as well as I can — look forward to the next game, and look long term, plan things with the board.
“It’s that time of year, it’s never nice to see your colleagues lose your jobs — three in a very short space of time.
“Some of them — you can talk about VAR all day long — and I don’t know the reasons behind the sackings at the clubs, but one result, for example Southampton against Watford with the handball, and we’re talking about something completely different. It’s a game of margins.
“Sometimes you have luck, sometimes you don’t, but it doesn’t make me any more concerned that it’s December.”
Solskjaer said he speaks to Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman, and owners, the Glazers, several times a week and, despite admitting that United’s league position was not good enough, he claimed he does not see this as a defining week for his tenure and dismissed some reports as “blatant lies”.
“We speak all the time so it’s not like knee-jerk, suddenly now we need to talk,” he said of his discussions with Woodward and the owners. “We speak a few times every week so it's continually progressing, the plans we've put in place, the rebuilding that we know we started.
“We have made some decisions that were necessary and now of course we're not happy where we are but we will continue working.
“Three days or four days are not going to change a whole lot but these two games are great chances for us to prove things and prove to ourselves that we can continue in the vein we have had against some of the better sides. We have had some good results against good teams and we've got a plan for Wednesday night.
“We’ve had too many draws for my liking, and defeats of course as well, but draws we should have turned into wins and football is a results business.
“We are not happy, we know we can do better, and we are working hard to get those results on the board, the work that is going on here is always geared on us improving but we're not getting all the results we've deserved.
“I can't remember the league position we were in but I've had now 50 games since then and the club it isn't where it should have been and isn't where we want to be and we know we have to improve. We are working hard to do that right and when you change manager halfway through the season it’s because it isn't where it is supposed to be.
“I'm good, absolutely no problem — sometimes you laugh when you read stories about what I've said and stuff. At least I know the sources are just made up, blatant lies.”
Solskjaer believes Mourinho will be given a warm reception by United fans, despite the toxic end to his regime, when the Portuguese’s relationship with players and executives soured.
“A very good reception, that's just a testament to this club and these supporters, they will remember the two and a half years he was here,” Solskjaer said. “He won trophies, I'm 100 per cent sure our fans will welcome him and the staff, and the club will welcome him.”
Solskjaer does not believe the motivation levels among his players will be any greater because they may want to prove a point to Mourinho, who was not afraid to criticise his squad in public at Old Trafford.
“I don't think whoever the manager of opposition team is will change their motivation,” Solskjaer said. “They are motivated to do well for Man United, because they know it's about improving every day in training and every time you step on that pitch it’s a chance to prove you can be part of this long term, and that has always been the case at Man United.
“When you put the shirt on you've got to give it your all, the boys are a bit disappointed after Sunday but now it’s all eyes on tomorrow night.”
The absence of Pogba and McTominay with ankle injuries has been keenly felt in recent weeks, with the 2-2 draw against Villa following a 3-3 draw against another newly promoted club, Sheffield United. Andreas Pereira and Fred have both struggled and the prospect of having a makeshift midfield against Spurs and City will concern fans. Pogba has been out since the end of September while McTominay was injured against Brighton last month.
“Paul is not ready, no, he's still a bit away but he’s working hard so let's see, he is out on the grass, so let's see how long it will take,” Solskjaer said. “[McTominay and Matic are] touch and go so let's get this training session out of the window. We have got got more games than this one, so I can't look at just the one game, I have got to look at the long-term.
“I don't want to talk about all the injuries we've had but when you get Scott back, when you get Paul back, we have been light in midfield because we had Paul, Scott and Nemanja out for such a long time and that's affected us.”